Is Elm A Hardwood?

Elm wood characteristics and grain color tone.

You might also be asking whether Elm is hardwood or not. Well, Elm is softwood with an 830 lbf Janka Hardness rating. 

Despite being a softwood, Elm is pretty tough and durable. It features interlocking grain, making it harder and more resistant to breaking or splitting. For this reason, you can use Elm wood for furniture making and parts.  

What is the Hardness Level of Elm?

Among softwoods, Elm is the hardest. But it is softer than most hardwoods. Many consider it a hardwood with both hardwood and softwood qualities. With 830 lbf Janka Hardness rating, it is harder than most softwoods. This Janka Hardness rating, however, is lesser than any hardwood. 

Botanists and Horticulturists use the Janka Hardness rating to measure the resistance of wood against dent and wear. Hence, woods with higher Janka ratings are harder. 

Hardwoods come from deciduous trees. Besides, deciduous trees lose their leaves during fall. Elm loses its leaves during fall, just like all the other hardwood trees. However, it is softer than most hardwoods. For this reason, it belongs to the softwoods category, halfway between being a hardwood and a softwood.

Upon closer scrutiny of the structure of Elm, you will see that its pore structure is made of wavy or straight bands, implying that its pores get aligned horizontally. This pore pattern is only evident in the Elm and is one of its distinctive characteristics.

Different Types and Species of Elm Wood  

Elm is a genus with around thirty species throughout the world. The appearances, sizes, and bark types of different Elm species vary; their applications or uses also depend on which variety you will use. Below are the most popular types of Elm trees:

1) American Elm 

The American Elm, or Ulmus American, is challenging to work with because of its interlocking grain. It is lightweight and excellent for use as boxes, baskets, firewood, wood pulp, and furniture. It will be best if you only use this Elm type indoors because it is vulnerable to insect infestation and rotting.

2) Red Elm

Red Elm is another popular type of Elm. It has a characteristic medium reddish brown heartwood, and its grain is interlocking and sports an uneven, coarse texture. Its wood is relatively light and strong. For this reason, it is ideal for furniture making. It is also perfect for making veneer sheets, boxes, pulpwood, and wood pulp. Because of its not-so-good dimensional stability and irregular grain pattern, you will find it hard to work.

It stains, finishes, and glues well. Moreover, you can steam bend it easily. Furthermore, it holds screws and nails very well.

3) English Elm or Ulmus Procera

English Elm is also called Carpathian Elm. You can find this Elm mainly in Western Europe. It is one of the fastest-growing and largest deciduous trees. It can reach a height of 40 meters or 130 feet with a maximum trunk diameter of two meters. It can even grow up to 46 meters. 

You can’t store this wood outdoors, and it is tough to work with because of its unstructured grain pattern. Nevertheless, it produces excellent boxes, wood pulp, veneer sheets, and furniture. 

4) Cedar Elm or Ulmus Crassifolia

Another type of elm is the Cedar Elm. It also gets used for making baskets, boxes, wood, pulp, veneer, and sports equipment. It exhibits interlocking grain, which makes it difficult to cut and shape. Nevertheless, it holds screws and nails well.

5) Slippery Elm or Ulmus Rubra

Slippery Elm is unique because its back carries a thick fluid or substance you can use as an herbal remedy. You can chew its inner bark or utilize it as a tablet, powder, or poultice. The medicinal properties of this substance have never been researched and checked scientifically, though there are studies with promising results. 

Many users of Slippery Elm for therapeutic application claim that it can help cure digestive problems, sore throat, cough, and urinary tract irritation. It can also remedy heartburn.

6) Dutch Elm

Dutch Elm originates from a hybrid of U. Glabra and U. Minor and another species. It is a European hybrid of Elms. Dutch elm trees grew in number in the 18th Century, and at present, it has increasingly proliferated, though it is still rare in the Netherlands and some parts of Europe.

Its heartwood sports a medium to light reddish brown. Its sapwood is almost white to pale yellow. However, its grain is unstructured and interlocking, characterized by a uniform texture. 

Dutch Elm wood presents an excellent appearance, perfect for making furniture, boxes, veneer sheets, and sports equipment.

Factors You Should Consider Before Using Elm Wood

After knowing Elm’s primary characteristics and properties, you can better decide whether Elm is the perfect material for your projects. Nevertheless, it will also help if you are familiar with the following essential factors to consider about Elmwood:

Elm Is Not Easy to Plane

If you would plane Elm, you will indeed have a hard time. Nevertheless, it is easy to cut, sand, and polish. Some Elm wood types will tear badly when you try to plane it because of interlocking grain. Hence, you need to use sharp tools and engage in extra sanding. 

Elm Has a Coarse Grain

Elm features a coarse grain which is relatively tough and hard. Thus, it resists splitting when under stress, making it perfect for applications that demand high resistance against stress. So, it is best for furniture that resists splitting under stress or furniture parts that require high resistance to stress, like small joints or sections. Nevertheless, if Elm is seasoned, it will break with ease.

It Tends to Shrink and Warp

Elmwood tends to warp a lot when subjected to the vicissitudes of the weather. Hence, when you use it, you should ensure that it gets only used in places with heating systems that can moderately control the ambient temperature. Ensure likewise that the furniture is not near the fireplace or burning wood. 

Some Elm Wood Types Exhibit Green Bands or Streaks

Some elm types exhibit green streaks or bands that can be subtle or strongly marked. Its colors also may vary from warm to rich. It will be best to stand dead elms for several years before you sawmill them. 

Seasoning it will likewise cause the loss of some richness and strength. Nevertheless, seasoning it will make it more stable and resistant to moisture. You can also apply Danish oil to bring out the richness of its color.

Applications and Uses of Elm Wood

Elm belongs to the most beautiful woods you will ever find on this planet. You can use it to produce excellent furniture, veneers, parquet, ceiling, and wall coverings. Because of its natural decorative looks, you can use it for making musical instruments and decorative objects. Its red-brown hue is perfect for creating solid wood furniture and unique handcrafted pieces. 

Advantages of the Use of Elm Wood

If you intend to use Elm, you might be at a loss as to whether it is the appropriate wood for your projects. So, it will help if you are cognizant of the following upsides of its use:

  • Elmwood is relatively stress-resistant and will not split quickly when you use it for furniture like truck bed floors and chairs. 
  • You can also sand and polish it well.
  • It offers warm and rich colors.
  • It is perfect for carving and furniture that require high corrosion resistance and mechanical power.
  • It also bends quickly when subjected to steam, making it very flexible to work with.

Disadvantages of the Use of Elm Wood

The use of Elm wood is not without its downsides. So, if you intend to use it, it will be best to be familiar likewise with the following downsides of its use:

  • Most elm species feature interlocking grain that can be difficult to work with if you don’t have sharp tools. 
  • Elm furniture necessitates regular maintenance. 
  • It will be best to refrain from using it outdoors, for it is vulnerable to rotting and insect attacks. 
  • The Elm species, like the Dutch Elm, although already a hybrid, still gets threatened by diseases. 
  • Bending or warping via steaming can be problematic if you use it on specific spots in your home. 
  • After drying, hard, dry elm can easily crack. Elm, likewise, is easy to dry.

Most Common Questions on Working with Elm Wood

After knowing the pros and cons of using Elm, you are now better positioned to decide whether this wood is best for your woodworking projects. Nevertheless, it will help if you are familiar with the following FAQs about Elm wood, for they might also be the questions playing on in your mind:

Is The Use of Elm Expensive?

Elm costs ten dollars per board. It is the same price as Purple Heart Wood, which costs $9 to $11.99 per board foot. Elmwood belongs to the most expensive woods in the market today. It is sustainable, however, and is not rare. 

It is less costly than Agar, while it is more expensive than Pink Ivory but less expensive than Dalbergia Wood which costs around $14 to $16 per board foot. It is also less costly than Bocote wood which perched at $32.99 per board foot.

Can You Use Elmwood Outdoors?

The world offers various options regarding woods that are best for outdoor uses, like Teak and Rosewood, which have proven to be rot-resistant. Elm may not have that widespread reputation for being excellent for outdoor use. Yet, it is also resistant to rotting and decay. 

Elm’s heartwood exhibits a high level of shock-absorbing capacity. 

However, it is relatively soft compared to other hardwoods. Elm is notorious for twisting and warping when you season it. Besides, Elm is not completely rot-resistant. It is susceptible to decay, bug attacks, and wood rot. 

Elm doesn’t have the natural protection and defense against repeated water onslaught as a tree. However, when submerged permanently in water, Elm doesn’t decay. For this reason, it gets often used for the bottoms of boats and other marine vessels. But if it undergoes regular dry and wet cycles, it will quickly succumb to decay and rot.

Can You Use Elm to Make Dining Table?

Elm exhibits strength and stability and is moderately heavy. It is known for its granular patterns, like that of a zebra or tiger. It is also perfect for making dining tables and chairs.

Does Elm Accept Stains Well?

Yes, Elm does accept stains well and is known for its beautiful repetitive pattern. This property facilitates staining and contributes even tones to its unique grain pattern.

Is the Use of Elm Sustainable?

The use of Elm is sustainable because it gets farmed. It exhibits fast growth and prolific seed production, allowing for harvesting wood sans harming old forests. Its speed of regeneration and carbon sequestration make Elm highly sustainable. Elm trees can reach up to 200 years of age or more. 


If you’re a woodworker or contractor who wants to get the best materials for your wood projects, you will carefully consider the different properties and characteristics of the wood you will use. The Elm, of course, has sterling characteristics, and after reading this post, you will know the pros and cons of its use. 

Gauging from what you have read, you will quickly know whether Elm is the perfect fit for your projects. Besides, after reading the FAQs about Elm, it will become evident whether the use of Elm is ideal for your projects or not. 

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